A Turkish Artist Challenges the Passive Public in “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do”

Apr 28, 2016 7:13PM

At Zilberman Gallery in Istanbul, Turkish artist Extrastruggle is currently exhibiting a series of politically charged new works in “I Only Did What I Was Told To Do.” Given the region’s volatile political landscape and cultural turmoil, his incisive sculptures and installations feel particularly relevant.

The gallery’s central space is filled with familiar objects—women’s shoes, a knife, a chain—presented in surprising, sometimes disturbing ways. In Some Days Were Missing Last Year-II* (2016), for instance, 33 women’s shoes are arranged in the shape of what appears to be a large whip, with a police baton where the whip’s handle would be. An accompanying note says, “The number of women exposed to violence and murdered in Turkey in 2015: 289.”

Honeymoon Set, 2016
Zilberman Gallery

Another piece also centers on a women’s shoe. Stiletto-heeled and adorned with white feathers and flowers, this one is meant to be worn with ladies’ lingerie. The fanciful slipper comes with a matching knife. The work’s sly title? Honeymoon Set.

Violence against women, whether institutionalized or in the domestic sphere, is a theme Extrastruggle (aka Memed Erdener) has long explored. Also on his agenda: the frivolity of pop culture, corrupt politicians and their relationship to a passive public, and rampant consumerism fueled by (and feeding) insurmountable debt on national and personal levels.

Though Extrastruggle’s work is often motivated by the state of affairs in his native Turkey, his observations resonate across the borders of what he calls “this hellish world where debt is sacred, where obedience gives peace, where differences are crushed with the power of community.”

Distorted Book, 2016
Zilberman Gallery
Obedience and Construction -II, 2016
Zilberman Gallery

Along those lines, Obedience and Construction –II (2016) depicts a man bowing before an industrial crane; he’s in the rukūʿ position, the traditional Muslim bow that follows a recitation of the Qur’an. For Extrastruggle, the idea of obedience, of submitting, is a dangerous proposition.

The artist has said the general public is living in hell, they’re just not aware of it. “It’s not hard to perceive this hell as a rose garden for the ones who fill their days without taking any responsibility,” he has said. “After all, their hearts are at that damned peace of being able to say ‘I only did what I was told to do’ when the time comes.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Extrastruggle: I Only Did What I Was Told To Do” is on view at Galeri Zilberman, Istanbul, Mar. 26–May 7, 2016.

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